Nurses Week - Helping, healing is a calling

May 8, 2019

Dr. Timothy Lane, left, talks with Debbie Vaughn, Chief Nursing Office, second to left, and Dan Shelford, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer in the ER at Raleigh General Hospital.  Photo by Rick Barbero, The Register Herald

By Wendy Holdren, The Register Herald

Just after graduating with her associate’s degree from Lewis and Clark Community College, Debbie Vaughn landed her first nursing job at St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis, Ill. 

It was late summer, a Friday at 6 p.m., when an alarming call came in. 

“The call came in as a code blue, a stabbing to the chest,” Vaughn remembers. “It was a 15-year-old patient who had been stabbed in the chest by a friend while playing basketball.”

She recalls going to the trauma room, scared to death. 

“I was thinking, ‘Oh Lord, what have I done? I was never exposed to anything like that in nursing school".

In the trauma room, the ER physician cracked open the chest of the young patient and told Vaughn to put on some gloves. 

“He put my hands in the man’s chest, and I performed open heart cardiac massage.” 

After the patient was stabilized, he was taken to St. Louis University, five minutes away by helicopter, for more intensive care. 

“I went into the break room and cried. I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

The doctor commended her on a job well done, but the truly gratifying words came six weeks later. 

“I was at the nurses’ station. I was bent over charting something, and I saw something in the corner of my eye. The young man walked down in front of me, and said, ‘I think you were one of the nurses who worked on me when they brought me in.’

“He said, ‘I just want to thank you for saving my life.’” 

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More than 35 years later, Vaughn, who is now the Chief Nursing Officer at Raleigh General Hospital, still reflects on that moment during bad days. 

Despite now having an administrative role, Vaughn stays in tune with the stresses, challenges and triumphs of the front line of nursing staff. 

She said she understands what it’s like to have a 12-hour shift without a break, without lunch, all for the care of their patients. 

“Nurses today have to be encouraged and rewarded,” she said. “Nurses Week is an excellent opportunity to recognize and reward the hard work they do all year.”  

Started in 1993, Nurses Week always concludes on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday.  

“She was the founder of nursing, so it’s a way of celebrating our beginnings as a profession,” Vaughn said.

While many technological changes have occurred in the profession over the years, the fundamentals of nursing have remained the same. 

To formalize and embrace those fundamentals, Vaughn explained that Raleigh General is implementing Jean Watson’s Theory of Caring.  

Within the theory, Watson defines 10 “carative factors,” which focus on developing caring relationships with patients and their families, as well as taking care of oneself in order to better care for others. Watson, a well-known nurse theorist and nursing professor, was born in Williamson, W.Va.

“When I was in school, I did a paper on her and I fell in love with the theory,” Vaughn said. “I have always adopted her theory in my own care.” 

The hospital is currently in the education phase of formally implementing the theory.

“It really puts a true sense of meaning to what we do every day.”

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While Vaughn and many other nurses find their careers rewarding, one of the major challenges of the profession is staffing. 

“West Virginia is one of the top states as far as shortages. It’s an ongoing challenge for us.” 

Currently, the hospital has 313 Registered Nurses, and 96 Licensed Practical Nurses.  

She said those numbers are sufficient in terms of providing care each day for patients, but the hospital has implemented a number of ways to better recruit and retain nurses. 

Scholarships and tuition payments have proven successful in recruiting, and the hospital recently introduced a clinical ladder program to help retain nurses.

The clinical ladder program focuses on personal development, community education and staff education. Vaughn said it is an opportunity for nurses to grow professionally, and monetary incentives are provided for some of the steps of the ladder. Currently, there are 55 nurses participating in the program. 

Vaughn said the hospital administration try to recognize their nurses year-round, with monthly free meals, free goodies and the naming of a nurse of the quarter. 

Those incentives, along with extra recognition during Nurses Week, go a long way in job satisfaction, but nothing can compare to the experience of a positive patient outcome. 

“To know that through my education and my knowledge, I can actually help somebody and see a patient get better in front of my eyes... that’s the reason we went into nursing.” 

— Email: and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren